If you have traveled to AirVenture by way of Iowa City, you’ve probably seen the Alexis Park Inn and Suites located at Iowa City Airport (IOW). Until recently, the inn was owned and operated by Jay and Mary Honeck. Last year the Honecks bought another inn, this one located in the warmer climate of the Texas coast.
“Having lived in Wisconsin and Iowa all our lives we were totally sick of winter,” Jay Honeck explained. “After the financial collapse in 2008 and 2009, market conditions became favorable for purchasing something, so we did in April.”
The new facility, known as the Harbor Inn, is located in Port Aransas, Texas. The 23-room inn is two miles from Mustang Beach Airport (RAS) and, according to Jay Honeck, is also in a prime location for guests who arrive by road rather than runway.
The Honeck’s entry into the hospitality industry began around 2001 with a pre-buy inspection of a Piper Pathfinder.
Their mechanic at Iowa City Airport shared a hangar with Harry Hinckley, who at the time owned the Alexis Park Inn.
“You spend a lot of time with your mechanic when you’re field overhauling an engine, and Harry kept popping over to see how things were going,” Jay explained. “We struck up a friendship and soon discovered that he owned the old motel next to the airport. We immediately started giving him a hard time for missing the opportunity of making it into an aviation-themed motel that would appeal to fly-in pilots, given its excellent location. I think he ultimately got sick of us badgering him, and offered to sell the business to us. We had no intention of getting into the hotel business, but after considering it for a few days and staying at the inn, we decided that this was something we could have fun with, so we bought it from Harry in 2002.”
The purchase led to what Honeck describes as “an absolute spending orgy” at AirVenture to buy artwork and memorabilia to decorate the new business. The first suites to be done were the Wright Brothers, Memphis Belle and the Red Baron.
“We also bought stained glass windows for the lobby, and a bazillion other things — everything from propellers to wing ribs,” he said. “We opened Aug. 19, 2002, but it took us seven-plus years to finish all 20 aviation theme suites. The last one, the Barnstormers Suite, was finished in 2009.”
Over the years, the inn proved a popular stop for aviators to and from AirVenture.
“July, Oshkosh month, was always our best month, with many pilots stopping in for our pre-Oshkosh fly-in pool party,” he recalled. “As far as I know, for eight consecutive years we hosted the only fly-in pool party.”
In the fall, the inn was full of football fans who came to see the Iowa Hawkeyes play.
“The stadium is within walking distance of the inn,” he continued. “Those weekends often sell out years in advance.”
In addition to providing out of town guests a place to stay, the inn also became a focal point of aviation advocacy. Ideas for aviation events, restoration projects, youth activities and the like were discussed beneath its roof, including the creation of the Take Flight exhibit at the Iowa’s Children’s Museum and the American Barnstormer’s Tour in 2008.
The inn also hosted aviation-themed movies on Tuesday nights and had a Kiwi Flight Simulator that was popular with guests and the locals.
By 2009 the Honecks were looking for ways to expand their operation into a warmer climate, but they soon realized that it was near impossible to run a hotel from 1,200 miles away, so they put the Iowa facility up for sale. The Honecks will be the owners and operators of the Alexis Park Inn until the end of February.
“All’s well that ends well,” said Jay. “I regret that we were unable to find a pilot who was passionate about owning and operating what amounted to a museum/bed & breakfast/hotel, but I am very happy that I have been able to retain all of the stuff we spent eight years acquiring.”
Honeck added that once the Mustang Island facility is finished, it will be rebranded as “Amelia’s Landing” — “as in you know who,” he said.
For more information: HarborInnPortA.com